Executive Director's Column

Here For You

Members of Congress attacked federally funded grants, proposing legislative amendments to terminate the funding of grants already awarded by NSF or NIH.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

There they go again--members of Congress attacking federally funded grants, proposing legislative amendments to terminate the funding of grants already awarded by NSF or NIH. It is a cheap political stunt, but one that is destined to be used again and again.

This time, the targets were several anthropology and psychology grants awarded by NSF. The proposed amendments were attached to the FY 2007 House NSF Reauthorization bill (H.R. 1867). The amendments were defeated. For a full recap and all the details, see this month’s article by Heather Kelly.

The defeat of an amendment

Anyone who follows the legislative process knows that amendments are frequently attached to otherwise popular bills. Such amendments are not necessarily friendly or innocuous, and can easily pass in the absence of any protest.

The social and behavioral science advocates here in Washington are on constant alert for these moves. We know they will happen, but we don’t always know when or where. Inaction on our part could have disastrous consequences. Effective action requires a special dedication of people and resources.

APA works in partnership with other advocacy and policy groups. In this case, it was Howard Silver, Executive Director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) who first alerted us to the proposed amendments. He knew that APA would spring into action, because two of the targeted grants involved psychologist principal investigators – both members of APA.

Fast action was required. APA became aware of the attacks on the morning of May 2. Debate and votes were scheduled for later that same day. APA quickly contacted the investigators, and then relayed information about their projects to members of Congress who we expected would rise to challenge the amendments. At the same time, APA activated its action alert network, to initiate a grassroots effort among network members to contact their congressional representatives and asking them to vote “NO.”

It worked. At the end of a long day, the amendments were defeated.

APA was here

We don’t know what the result would have been had APA not taken action. Nobody wants to do that experiment. We are fairly confident, however, that APA’s quick and decisive action played a central role in defeating these amendments.

We have lots of people to thank. The APA Science policy staff knew exactly what to do, and did not skip a beat. Heather Kelly in particular deserves much of the credit. The science community of psychology should also be grateful to Representative Brian Baird (D-WA). A psychologist himself, Baird led a brilliant debate in opposition to the amendments.

And we have ourselves to thank--by joining together as members of the world’s largest professional association of psychologists, we have the resources and the know-how to respond to such threats and deal with them effectively. That’s what professional associations do, and that’s why we belong and support them.

The attack was focused on just two among us, but it was an attack on all of us. It was an attack on behavioral science, it was an attack on peer review, it was an attack that could just as easily been focused on you.

If you ever wonder about the value of belonging to APA, I hope you will remember events such as this. Imagine, if you can, what our science would be like if members of Congress regularly succeeded in cutting off funding for psychology-related grants. And imagine the consequences if nobody was here to rise in your defense.